The Western Front, The First World War And U.S. Soldiers


America's intervention was, of course, welcomed by the allies but there was some resentment that it had taken so long. On the Western Front casualties had been so heavy for the allies that the incoming U.S forces, some 300,000 soldiers had landed in France, that the allied commanders wanted to use the American Expeditionary Force to be pushed into a subordinate role effectively to plug gaps in the fighting units. This move was firmly resisted by the Americans under the leadership of Major John “Black Jack” Pershing. From an American soldier's perspective this boosted morale and in their self respect.

The conditions for all soldiers on the Western Front were very bad. Death was the constant companion of soldiers, with soldiers being advised to avoid looking over the parapet into “no man's land”. Estimates indicate that the dead on the Western Front accounted for up to one third of the allies casualties. Rats the size of domestic cats by the million infested the trenches and gorged themselves on dead bodies and disease was rife with medical care scanty and inadequate. Rats were far from the only problem with frogs, lice and nits. The stench of rotting corpses was appalling and toilet facilities were primitive in the extreme.

There was some skepticism to of the allied soldiers to the new influx of raw American troops, perhaps understandable given the length of time and the conditions that the allied forces had been forced to endure. However, it did not take a great deal of time for the American forces to prove their effectiveness in the battles of Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry and Blleau Wood in France. By September 1918 the American were able to launch a major offensive on German forces near Verdun capturing some 25,000 prisoners and by then the German and Austro-Hungarian forces were all but exhausted, hungry and defeated.

At Cantigny on 28 May 1918 provided for a strong American involvement winning victory, showing the French that U.S. forces could be relied on to perform well in battle The Battle of Belleau Wood occurred in June 1918 with again strong American involvement. Chateau-Thierry was fought on 18 July 1918 and was part of the Second Battle of the Marne and American soldiers once again acquitted themselves well.

To the most young American soldiers one can only image the horror of the wounding, death, disease and general carnage being a major shock to the system.

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